It seems every generation goes through that phase where they complain about the present and long for the past. I’m not trying to do that. The present’s not always awesome but it’s where I live and the future’s where I’m headed. But stuff does change and sometimes it’s a good idea to bring something back when you remember it used to be awesome. I’m talking about Saturday mornings and cartoons.
I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s back when you could see cartoons on nearly every channel on Saturday morning. It was tradition. Much like the Sunday funnies in the newspapers, Saturday morning was a time when programming was specially dedicated to the concept. I woke up this Saturday, checked the channels, and you know what I saw? Nickelodeon was fawning over their teen starlet iCarly, Cartoon Network was showing some anime I didn’t understand, (but at least it was animated) and some other channel was showing CGI talking vehicles. That was it. No Saturday morning block on the network stations. No reruns of older cartoons anywhere. Either it was anime or pre-kinder programming. What happened? A wikipedia article claims mandates for educational/informative shows eventually killed Saturday morning, along with advocacy groups and competition from other forms of entertainment. Supposedly with the rise of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and other channels that played children’s programming regularly, there was little reason to focus Saturday morning for it. That’s like saying MTV exists, why do we need to show music videos? Take a look at this block of programming from the 1980s and this block from the 1990s. Compare that to today where you have so much reality TV drivel, so much “tween” nonsense, so much lifeless pre-kindergarten crap.
Shows I Remember
Call it whatever you want. The Bugs Bunny/Tweety Show, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, whatever. Back before Cartoon Network exclusively became the place to see these cartoons (and before they drowned them out with their own programming) they’d rerun on older stations all the time.
Based loosely around the Tim Burton movie, Beetlejuice and Lydia ran around through the Neitherworld having crazy adventures.
The Real Ghostbusters
Do I have to explain this one? It was based on probably the biggest franchise of the ’80s and still holds up incredibly well today.
I know plenty of you folks grew up on Ducktales, Rescue Rangers, and Tailspin, but this show was probably my favorite of the bunch of duck-themed shows that filled TV at the time.
Another duck show, only this one’s British and about a vegetarian vampire. It was often paired up with Danger Mouse, which was just fine with me.
Rocko’s Modern Life
This was when Nickelodeon brought us Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Rugrats. How can you not enjoy a show with an opening theme by the b52s?
Sonic the Hedgehog SatAM
This show ran around the same time as The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog but took a totally different approach to the concept. The SatAM was to better differentiate the two. And since Saturday morning is gone much like this series, it seems only fitting. I remember it launching around the same time as Cro, a show about a frozen mammoth who regaled you with stories of his caveboy friend.
Decent Shows Today
There’s still some good animation being done now but it’s usually squished to weird hours in favor of live action programming.
A highly stylized show about a kid who has fairy godparents. If you ever get the chance to watch one of their longer animated movies, especially the crossovers with Jimmy Neutron, do yourself a favor and watch.
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
Two kids who won the Grim Reaper in a limbo contest and now he has to be their friend forever. This is one of those shows that’s for kids on the outside and grown ups on the inside. It’s been around for awhile but that doesn’t mean it won’t disappear tomorrow. When I saw the creator and voice actors at San Diego Comic Con in 2006 they all seemed to accept that it was always under the guillotine of being canceled.
The Venture Bros.
Part of the Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network. Basically they asked the question of what Johnny Quest would be like when he grew up. It’s a brilliant show.
Much like The Venture Bros., this show is targeted towards grown ups. It stars H. Jon Benjamin as the title character, Sterling Archer – a secret agent for ISIS, international spy agency. It also stars Aisha Tyler (who I saw do standup recently and can’t recommend seeing highly enough) as the sexy Lana Kane and a whole bunch of other funny people in very entertaining roles. If you haven’t checked it out yet you should.
Saturday morning cartoons have changed a great deal since I was a kid. But then again, I’ve changed, too. Now I can find cartoons online or on adult blocks late at night. People like me who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons most likely aren’t even up that early on weekends anymore anyway so perhaps I shouldn’t complain. I just miss the amount of cartoons and the environment it generated. Back then, so many stations would be putting cartoons on the air, by some sort of mathematical law, at least some of it had to be good. And folks who knew what they were doing at the time brought us what some people have called a second renaissance or second golden age of animation. With shows like Animaniacs, Pinky and The Brain, Taz-Mania, and Tiny Toon Adventures bringing a revival of good cartoons. Will we ever see shows like that again? Possibly. Right now Hollywood has been on a retro kick bringing back old properties. TV networks have all been about the reboot as they brought us the new Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, Lunatics Unleashed, and Baby Looney Tunes. (Seriously, Baby Looney Tunes? Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and The Flintstones Kids was over long before they decided to cash in on designs of the characters used to sell baby products.)
There was the short-lived Duck Dodgers series awhile back and recently it was announced that Warner Bros. would be making a new The Looney Tunes Show. However the promo art for the series has already gotten some pretty harsh scrutiny. I’ll reserve judgement until I actually see it. The problem with doing cartoons today, especially with pre-existing properties like these, is satisfying both the younger audience who are the ones supposed to be tuning in and the older audience who are watching out of memories of shows from their childhood. It’s a hard line to walk. Either cartoons are for the kiddies and not to be taken seriously or they have to be raunchy and explicitly adult. There aren’t too many shows that can please both anymore. It’s a rare thing when that actually happens.